WHITE — After stellar regular seasons, both Calhoun Middle School basketball teams fell just short of claiming Bartow-Gordon Middle School Athletic Association (BGMSAA) region titles in two intense, tightly-contested games on Wednesday.
In the girls region championship contest, the Lady Jackets suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Cartersville Lady Hurricanes.
With the game knotted at 32-32 with four seconds remaining on the clock, and overtime seeming imminent, Calhoun (11-1) committed a foul near midcourt on the buzzer-beater attempt. The foul granted Cartersville (10-2) three free-throws with no time left, two of which the team converted to seal the victory.
“That was definitely a tough way to go out,” Calhoun head coach Melissa Hawkins said. “But I am proud of their effort on both ends of the floor. I thought we put ourselves in a position to win offensively and defensively.”
Even though the end result wasn’t what the team had hoped for, the Lady Jackets deserve a lot of credit for its effort in clawing back into the game after a slow start. Calhoun was down as many as 10 points during the game’s opening minutes, and were losing 14-5 by the end of the first period.
However, this team showed a high level of resiliency and played like the No. 1 seed by cutting the deficit to 19-16 at the half, and snatching a 27-23 advantage before the final quarter.
The Lady Jackets even clung to separate 30-29 and 32-31 leads in the game’s final two minutes, but untimely turnovers and the foul at the end of regulation secured the win for the Lady Hurricanes.
Despite the loss, Calhoun was backed by explosive offensive performances from point guard Tabby Curtis, who used her knack for getting to the rim to rack up 17 points, and shooting guard Ella Manley, who netted nine points as the team’s best option behind the 3-point arc.
“I told both of them before the game that we needed a big performance from both of them to have a chance to pull this one out,” Hawkins said. “I think they both stepped up in a big way and gave it all they had.”
Even though the team made a late push, it was a similar rusty start that put Calhoun behind early in a 34-30 loss to the Cass Colonels in the boys region championship.
The Jackets struggled to find its stroke early, which allowed the Colonels (11-1) to jump ahead 13-5 at the end of the first quarter and 15-9 at the break.
“It seemed like for a while, especially that first quarter, that the bucket had a lid on it,” Calhoun head coach Bryan Abernathy said. “We just couldn’t get anything to fall, and that put us in a hole early.”
The initial cold start extended into the third quarter, where Cass expanded its lead to 19-9. However, the Jackets (10-2) eventually discovered a steady rhythm and sliced the scoring margin to just four heading into the final period with an 8-2 scoring sequence.
But the Colonels responded with a momentum-shifting run of its own, stretching the lead out to 31-23 with just a few ticks left on the clock. Calhoun actually had one final glimmer of hope when forward Cole Speer drained a 3-pointer to push the score to 34-30 with 30 seconds left, but Cass was able to shut the door with a couple of swarming defensive stands as time expired.
“There was no question that we gave it our best effort in that second half tonight,” Abernathy said. “We just couldn’t score consistently enough to establish a lead, and Cass was able to put together clutch baskets down the stretch to take this one.”
Standout individual performances for the Jackets included forward Blaze Hammett, who was a force in the paint while compiling 14 points, Speer, who totaled nine points, and guard Christopher Lewis, who finished with five points.
“This is a tight-knit group of guys,” Abernathy said. “I’m proud of how much they have all improved this season, and I know there are great things in store for their futures.”